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Global data shows that women and men travel by different modes of transport, at different times and for different purposes. Poor access to transport for women has major implication on development, adversely affecting their education, health and economic activities. Understanding the specific needs of women is crucial to addressing their demand for transport and ensuring equitable access to mobility.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, the African Development Bank launched a two-day seminar in its offices in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, focusing on mainstreaming gender into the design and planning of transport infrastructure. The event was organized by the Bank, in collaboration with UK Aid. It provided an opportunity for knowledge-sharing between transport and gender specialists of the Bank, as well as managers and engineers working in partner agencies. “For a long time, the transport sector has been blind concerning women’s needs. Such workshop will help us to systematically mainstream gender in transport projects,” noted Amadou Oumarou, Director of the Transport and ICT Sector Department of the Bank, in his welcome address.
Gina Porter from Durham University (UK) led the debate, assisted by Jeff Turner, from the Bank’s Office of the Special Envoy on Gender. Both invited participants to adopt the “user” point of view in seeking to understand the habits of different kind of women users, to make an inventory of their constraints and expectations resulting from their multiple roles in society: economic agents, producers or traders, community managers and keepers of the family (providing food, water, healthcare, etc.). “Combining those different roles with their daily activities puts them in a position where they face strong transport challenges, which are amplified by the fact that they generally suffer from a lack of financial resources. They are very dependent on public transport,” said Porter.
Security has been identified as the No. 1 concern raised by women regarding transport. The lack of safe and affordable modes of transport is a central issue for both urban and rural women, considering that women are exposed to harassment and rape. It creates special and social exclusions: places and travel times that they absolutely try to avoid. It makes their journey more complex and often more expensive. The participants were asked if it was necessary to create separate transport for women, to help them to avoid such risks.
In rural areas, many challenges arise from distance and lack of public transport – a school too far away or a river too difficult to cross can be factors in school non-attendance for girls, who are also often in charge of some domestic tasks before going to school. A study conducted in Tanzania established that maternal mortality rate grow the further women live from the nearest health centre. Yassin Gillen, project engineer in the Gambian National Road Authority, raised the example of the important impact of a simple footbridge on access to education and health services for women in an isolated village.
“It’s crucial to implement a gender approach, systematically, at the project level, but also in our masterplans, sensitizing politics and governments,” said one participant, inviting the Bank and partner agencies to mainstream gender-sensitive transport in Country Strategy Papers. That shift also has to be driven by women, they noted.
“Let’s stop seeing women as passive beneficiaries and let’s start integrating them into the designing phase of projects, working on capacity building, making them part of transport program teams as constructors, engineers, decision-makers,” said Porter.